-The Cooking Colonel of Madras by David Smith

regional specialities >

pies & pasties


Melton Mowbray pork pies   Melton Mowbray Pork Pie

Melton Mowbray pork pies now have the distinction of being recognised by the European Commission as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). So what does that mean? It means that, like Stilton Cheese and Cumberland Sausage, only products made within a designated area can be called by that specific name. So you could set up a pie factory in London and make pork pies but you can't call them Melton Mowbray Pork Pies. Melton Mowbray pork pies have to be made in the designated area around the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray using specified ingredients in the traditional way.

The distinction between a regular pork pie and the Melton Mowbray version is that in the regular pie the pork meat is cured in brine and appears pink in the finished pie. The pie has straight sides from being cooked in a hoop or tin. In a Melton Mowbray pie the pork is untreated and appears greyish after being cooked. The pie has bowed sides because it has been cooked without a mould to shape it.

A top quality Melton Mowbray pork pie like the Mrs King's ones pictured opposite only contain prime pork and do not use offal. The meat is a mixture of lean pork and pork shoulder and is always chopped not minced. The only other ingredients are the pastry, the jelly between the pastry and meat (made from pigs trotters), salt and pepper.

a Cornish Pasty

picture from Wikipedia

  Cornish Pasties

The Cornish Pasty Association, a group of more than 40 pasty makers in Cornwall, has applied to the European Commission for the same PGI status for Cornish Pasties as the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie now enjoys. I hope they get it. There's an awful lot of rubbish sold as Cornish pasties and the supermarkets would then have buy solely from bakeries located in Cornwall. The benefit would be twofold. Firstly, anything you bought labelled as a Cornish Pasty would have to be made to a certain standard and secondly it would provide a welcome boost to the Cornish economy.

But let's concentrate on the real thing. What defines a genuine Cornish Pasty? Well, firstly, it has to look like a Cornish Pasty. A true Pasty is D shaped and is crimped at the edge not at the top (see picture). Those torpedo shaped pies with a backbone like a stegosaurus are fakes. But it's what's inside that really counts. The filling has to be chunky, not fine. It must contain at least 12.5% beef which can be coarsely minced or roughly chopped but MUST be raw in the mixture and only cooked while the pasty is baking. The rest of the filling is made up of swede/turnip, potato and onion with a peppery seasoning. The pasty does not have a gravy like, say, a steak and kidney pie. Because the ingredients in the filling are raw the pasty must have a long, slow baking so the pastry must be robust enough to survive the baking yet still emerge golden brown when cooked.

It was that robustness which made the pasty the food of the Cornish working man. Most people know about Cornish tin miners and their pasties but the pasty had been the staple food for Cornish agricultural workers since the 17th century although it can be traced much further back than that. Poorer families would use a filling of vegetables alone and leave out the relatively expensive meat.

If you visit Cornwall today to won't find a town without its pasty shops. You will come across a whole range of pasties with fillings such as lamb, vegetables, cheese & potato and goodness knows what else. But there should be only one type of pasty in the shop labelled a "Cornish Pasty".

Fidget Pie   Fidget Pie

Fidget pie is nowhere near as well known as its Melton Mowbray and Cornish cousins but I have thoroughly enjoyed fidget pie bought from my local Farmers' Market and it's such a great name that it deserve a mention. There are Huntingdon Fidget Pies, Market Harborough Fidget Pies, Shropshire Fidget Pies and fidget pies from pretty much all over the English Midlands. Laura Mason & Catherine Brown explain in their book Traditional Foods of Britain that the pie was traditionally made at harvest time and contains pork, ham or bacon, apples and other vegetables like potato and onion seasoned with sage. It is a raised pie with a deep pastry case.

The unusual name has got nothing to do with the cook fidgeting. There are several theories about the origin of the name but Mason & Brown's favourites are either that it's to do with the shape of the pie, fitched meaning five sided, or that it smelled quite unpleasant while cooking, the old country name for a young polecat being fitchett. Who knows? I've never cooked one so I can't vouch for the smell while cooking but I do know they certainly taste good when you eat them cold as the harvest workers would have done.

cow pie   Cow Pie (West Yorkshire)

Just my little joke. Cow pie was the favourite of Desperate Dan, a character in the children's comic The Dandy. Dan's pie was so big it contained a whole cow!

Meat and potato pies are common throughout England but are particularly associated with West Yorkshire. The Denby Dale Pie is rectangular in shape and contains stewed beef and potatoes in gravy. Denby Dale is famous for it's huge celebration pies the first of which was made in 1788 in honour of King George III. The most recent pie was made in 2000 for the Millennium celebrations. See HERE for details of the pie which contained 5 tonnes British beef, 2 tonnes potatoes, 1 tonne onions and 100 kg John Smith's Yorkshire Bitter.